Alexander Wurz discusses his 1996 win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Alexander Wurz discusses his 1996 win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Alexander Wurz, Grand Marshal of the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, won the race twice in 1996 (TWR Porsche) and 2009 (Peugeot 908 HDi FAP). The first victory was particularly important as it facilitated his move to Formula 1 thereafter (69 Grand Prix from 1997 to 2007).

You've competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans nine times. What is your favorite memory?

"Le Mans is such an interesting race, a real mind game, but also a technological challenge. Of my nine participations, I won the race twice but of the seven others, five times I was forced to retire due to technical problems while we were in the lead or possibly in position to win. I asked myself often: 'Why do you do this race?' I finally figured out the answer, I enjoy a good challenge! But in 2014, I would wake up randomly and ask myself if I still wanted to rise to the challenge. That was when I knew it was time to stop."

You won at Le Mans for the first time in 1996. What do you remember of that victory?

"I think only five drivers in LM P1 have managed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their first participation (Alexander Wurz in 1996, Tom Kristensen in 1997, Laurent Aïello in 1998, Nico Hülkenberg and Earl Bamber in 2015, Ed.). I was the first one. At the time, I had come from single-seaters (Alexander Wurz was also entered in the International Touring Championship, or ITC, the former international version of the current DTM, in Joest Racing's Opel Calibra, Ed.) and I remember it all happened as if in a dream."

"Shorty before the race, I was at the point of ending my career because I was completely broke. By a stroke of luck, Reinhold Joest (Joest Racing team owner, Ed.) needed a driver to carry out testing with the car they were going to use at Le Mans. I was only supposed to do that session, but he realized how much I loved Le Mans. I had asked him so many questions about the TWR-Porsche, its driving, that he decided to he was going to make this young Austrian driver do test after test (laughs, Ed.). And that was as I was thinking about trying to convince him to do more than one session. That day, I was the fastest as early as my third lap in the car. Reinhold Joest said to himself: 'I'm going to make sure this guy doesn't cut the corner or something like that!' And I didn't (laughs, Ed.). He then made me do another test and once again I was the fastest. In the end, he named me third driver in the #8 car. Later he decided to put me in the #7 which was the fastest. We won the race, it was a lifesaver for me, and I was also looking to move into Formula 1."

"A week before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I had managed to get a meeting with Flavio Briatore (at the time, the owner of Mild Seven Benetton Renault, a Formula 1 team with whom Michael Schumacher became world champion in 1994 and 1995, Ed.). He didn't really feel like meeting with me, all he knew was that I had won some races in F3 and in Formula Ford. We got together very briefly and he asked me what I was doing the following weekend. I told him I was competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. So he told me, 'if you win Le Mans, I'll let you test.' The day after my victory, a fax arrived saying that I had been given two days of testing sessions at the Silverstone circuit. Once again, at those tests I was the fastest and that's how my Formula 1 career began. So Le Mans was the starting point."    

In the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 21 drivers have won the race in their first participation. 

How did your win in 2009 (in the #9 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP with David Brabham and Marc Gené) differ from your first?

"It was different because I realized the amount of effort and precision it takes to win this race. It was also a special victory since it involved an internal battle with the team's other two cars. The fight was really very intense and we managed to win. It was a truly great moment."

You are a very loyal person and have spend most of your endurance racing career with two teams: Peugeot Sport (from 2008 to 2011) and Toyota Racing (from 2012 to 2015). Was that by choice?

"I had many other opportunities when I was with the two teams. For logical reasons, I preferred to remain with the two outfits, and if I had to do it again, I would do the exact same thing."   

Click here for the first part of this interview.